Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Essay: My Book Review Process

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

One question every book blog reviewer should ask is what are their metrics for success. Is it the number of readers they have? How many comments they receive? (Partially, I feel this is an unrealistic goal but that's another essay in itself.) Two years ago, I was content with receiving enough review copies to satisfy my book review quota (which was one book per week), especially since that wasn't the reality. Nowadays, I have my hands full, and the books that need to be reviewed (but I haven't read) is piling up. It's a good problem to have, especially compared to how I was doing two years ago, but it's a problem nonetheless.

Which brings me to my book reviewing process. Every book reviewer will have their own ethics and their own guidelines but I want to talk about mine, not just for the sake of transparency (to both readers and authors), but also to be conscious of my own criteria. I'll eschew the philosophy of book reviewing (i.e. why write book reviews in the first place) but begin with the practical side of things.

What books are you willing to review? This question can be read in a lot of ways. Some book reviewers for example make the distinction (i.e. decline) between self-published books and those by established publishers. It could also be a question of medium (eBooks vs print), genre, or language. There are also less tangible criteria such as "books I think I'll like" or unique circumstances, which in my case involves reviewing books that I'm a contributor for (hint: if you go this route, public disclosure is very important).

Here's my personal stand on the matter: theoretically, I don't make a distinction between self-published books and those by established publishers, but as I said earlier, I'm getting more books than I have time to read, so there's a good chance I'll decline self-publishers if I haven't heard of you or if your pitch doesn't immediately catch my attention. The exception to this rule are fellow Filipinos, as a lot of good fiction is actually being produced by self-publishers.

I'm not aware of the statistics but I'd like to think the publishers who do send me books like me because I'm willing to review eBooks. This is compounded by the fact that I live in the Philippines, and most publishers are either in the US or Europe, so shipping might end up being more expensive than the galleys themselves.

When it comes to genre, well, I've reviewed books in my blog that's not science fiction or fantasy, but honestly a good chunk of those are books that I bought on my own. My stance is similar to that of self-publishers: I'm open to reviewing books that aren't speculative fiction, but they'll most likely be the exception rather than the norm (and a question such authors/publishers should ask is whether they're getting the mileage they're expecting to receive for being reviewed in what is, for the most part, a genre blog).

I'm not afraid of writing negative reviews so I have no qualms reviewing books that "I don't know if I'll like it or not." This is the serendipitous part of book reviewing, coming across a book or author you've never heard of, and appreciating their writing. This would never occur if I simply stick to reviewing books that I think I'll like (i.e. the existing pool of authors that I read). Having said that, I'm aware of the hypocrisy of the previous statements. If that were entirely true, I'd review every book that comes my way, including self-publishers and non-genre titles. I guess here, it boils down to either my relationship with the publisher/author, or how much I trust the brand. For example, PS Publishing sends me their entire catalogue, and for the most part, I'm happy with the books they publish (I think they're cutting edge). Sure, there's a book or two that doesn't appeal to me, but for the most part I expect reading PS Publishing titles to be pleasant. (And let's face it, I don't think a reviewer is willing to review a series of books from a publisher in the long term if they think it'll most likely be crap.)

Last but not least are books which I'm part of. For my blog, I don't review them, although occasionally I might do something like "not a review" and cite my participation in the book.

When do the book reviews come out? Anyone who's receiving a pile of books will know how much of a dilemma this question can prove to be, at least for a slow reader like me. While this information is important to readers, it's perhaps more important to publishers, so that they can take into account your schedule in their promotional plans.

In my case, rule #1 would be whenever I'm done reading the book. That might seem like a simple answer but it leads to my next question, which is how I prioritize the books that I actually read.

For me, there are three factors to consider, and their heirarchy is in flux (i.e. sometimes a) has more value than b) while at other times, c) has more value than a)):

a) When did I receive the review copy? I'll most likely prioritize books that were submitted earlier.

b) When does the author/publisher want the review to be published? Not that I'll accomodate them all the time, but I'll take it into consideration when planning my reviewing schedule. By default though, if there's no word on when it should be released, I'll assume they'll want it in the month of the book's release.

c) When is the book being released? I'll most likely post the review within the month of a book's release.

Another factor that comes into play on my part is that I have two reading queues: one for eBooks, and one for dead-tree books. It honestly varies from month to month. Right now, I have an overwhelming amount of the former compared to the latter (so unfortunately my review of eBooks are delayed). And unfortunately, how much time I can devote to each varies. There are periods where I'm eager to devour eBooks while there are times that because I'm traveling a lot, I find myself having more time to read actual books.

There's also reading burn-out to consider so no matter how many books are in my queue, I stop reading the book I need to read and pick a book I want to read.

I'm different from other book review blogs in the sense that my publication schedule is public (it's every Monday) and I stick to it (there are exceptions in which I publish reviews outside of a Monday but there'll always be a review on Monday) so that's when readers can expect to read a review.


Anonymous said...


I really appreciated this essay on writing reviews, as I wish also to review books on my blog Cranking Plot. Your advice is very practical and I look forward to using it.

Would you also consider writing an article on how you approach the style and content of your review?


Charles said...

I'll see. Just not right now.